Omar Khadr was in the news again the other day. Remember him? The Canadian citizen charged and convicted as a ‘war criminal’ by the U.S. Kangaroo courts at that infamous U.S. legal black hole, otherwise known as Gitmo, back in 2010.

Khadr’s lawyers held a press conference last week to try to shame the government (do they even have any at this point?) into honouring their agreement with the 25 year-old , to extradite him to serve the rest of his eight year sentence in a Canadian prison.

If there is a striking irony throughout Khadr’s ordeal, it surely must be his stubborn, some would say delusional, refusal to believe that his government would betray him, even though the Canadian government has repeatedly done just that by, among other things, giving him false hope when they sent CSIS agents to interrogate him back in 2003, with the intention of gathering evidence that would eventually be used against him at his trial (For an excellent account of this episode I recommend watching the Canadian documentary You Don’t Like The Truth: 4 days inside Guantanamo).

The prosecution worked out a plea bargain with Khadr, requiring him to plead guilty to the killing of a U.S. soldier in Afghanistan, in exchange for their assurance that he would be allowed to return to Canada, his birthplace and home for much of his childhood. Now the Harper government is dragging its feet on the extradition, making it the only western state with detainees at Gitmo to completely wash its hands of its nationals, despite U.S. requests that he be repatriated .

Omar Khadr as a 19 year-old.

Setting aside the question of Khadr’s guilt which is, legally speaking, a moot point, there are many other troubling legal questions that the trial raises, including the fact that he is being tried as an adult despite the fact that the incident occurred when he was only 15 years old, thus making him a child soldier according to international human rights law.

As Senator Roméo Dallaire, one of the world’s foremost experts on the subject, has said, “We need to respect the international convention [on the rights of child soldiers] that we have signed.”

“The United States and Canada have both been guilty of violating these conventions, particularly concerning the rights of children and…the goal of making sure that child soldiers are demobilized, rehabilitated and reintegrated.”

Shockingly, even National Post columnist Chris Selley agrees with this point, although he points the finger at former Liberal foreign minister Bill Graham, in charge of the Khadr file in 2002 when the situation first came to the government’s attention. Selley’s not buying the argument that the minister did everything he could to repatriate Khadr, saying bluntly, “What he knew then was that 15-year-old Canadian, a child soldier by definition, was being held in Cuba without access to consular visits. The world’s grown-up nations made an exponentially bigger fuss about their adult detainees.”

Then there’s the matter of the military commission’s set up for trials of detainees at Gitmo. These ‘courts’ involve military juries, have highly suspect standards regarding evidence (especially the kind obtained through torture, by definition inadmissible in a regular U.S. criminal court or any international tribunal), and were designed by the U.S. government to provide legitimacy to a quasi-judicial process that has lacked basic due process from the word go. It’s hardly surprising that most human rights lawyers, like Andrea Prasow former defense attorney for the Pentagon, condemned the whole process stating, “I don’t think anyone looking from the outside can say it was a fair trial and that justice was served.”

Harper may not like it, but he needs to bring Khadr home, as he promised the Americans, to spend the rest of his jail time in a Canadian prison, no matter how unpopular politically such a decision might be with his supporters. Every other major democratic government has done their part, it’s time we do ours.

Photos courtesy of the Howl Arts Collective and 4WardEver UK via Flickr

Omar Khadr a year before his capture

Imagine if you will that you’re a young boy and brought to a foreign land where you are home schooled, taught to hate and trained to kill.   The mud huts and buildings where you’re staying are attacked and bombed by A-10 Warthogs and Apache helicopters reducing everything to rubble.   With almost everyone around you dead, you crouch on your knees in pain from the shrapnel that almost blinds you when all of a sudden you are shot twice in the back.

You’re then evacuated to a military hospital, called a killer and tortured, only to find yourself on your way to Guantanamo Bay where you’re charged with war crimes and aiding terrorists, tortured some more and denied help from your own country… sounds like the typical life of any Canadian teenager right?

I’m talking of course about Omar Khadr.   The only westerner still stuck at the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay and being a child soldier at the time, he is also the youngest.   Whether or not Khadr was responsible (or even capable) for throwing a grenade that killed a U.S. soldier is somewhat trifling given that he was only fifteen years old at the time.

After reading “A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier” by Ishmael Beah (a book I recommend to everyone), I find it appalling that any kid should have to go through all the terrible things that Khadr has had to go through even before his capture.   I’m not saying that both Omar’s and Ishmael’s circumstances where identical, but child soldiers do have some distinct similarities: they are easily brainwashed and usually suffer from post traumatic stress syndrome.

A Long Way Gone

Before he arrived at Guantanamo, he was tortured at Bagram air force base.   Khadr said that he was refused pain medication for his wounds, had his hands tied above a doorframe for hours with cold water being thrown on him, forced to carry 5-gallon buckets of water to intensify his shoulder wound and was not allowed to use washrooms and therefore forced to urinate on himself.   His chief interrogator was Joshua Claus, who later pleaded guilty to abusing detainees.

During his incarceration at Guantanamo, he was at first considered an “intelligence treasure trove” by U.S. officials, having actually met Osama Bin Laden through his father, even though he was only ten years old at the time.   He was tortured with sleep deprivation, changing his cell every three hours for 21 days and isolation prior to being interrogated by Canadian CSIS agents who shared the information they received with his prosecutors.

Now at the age of twenty-three, blind in one eye and having spent more than a third of his young life behind bars, Mr. Khadr has fired his American defense lawyers and refused a plea bargain that would have kept him at Guantanamo for only five more years saying “I will not willingly let the U.S. government use me to fulfill their goal, I have been used too many times as a child.”   He then added that pleading guilty at his trial next month would “give an excuse to the government for torturing me and abusing me as a child”

What makes me angry still is that the Harper Government has refused to repatriate Khadr.   The Supreme Court of Canada even said that Harper and his government’s actions “offend the most basic Canadian standards about the treatment of detained youth suspects.”   Still Harper does nothing… even in breach of the constitution and Khadr’s human rights.

Please help bring Omar Khadr home.   He has long paid for any crime he may or may not have committed.

Present Day Omar Khadr in Court